7 years since his directorial debut with 2009's incredible A Single Man, fashion designer turned director Tom Ford's sophomore feature, Nocturnal Animals, has been gaining quite the momentum since doing the festival rounds. Now, it's finally here but can Ford follow-up strong?

A Single Man relished in its simplicity, whereas Ford has really upped the ante for Nocturnal Animals which is definitely the more challenging and complicated of his films. Despite plenty of wealth and success, art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) lives a fairly bland, mundane lifestyle - merely getting by, not exactly happy with how things are. However, when her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript of his new book, Nocturnal Animals, she finds herself shaken and constantly haunted by their past and by this gripping novel. Inside his novel occurs a story about a teacher (also played by Gyllenhaal) that finds a trip with his wife (Isla Fisher), and daughter (Ellie Bamber), turn into a nightmare. As Susan continues to read the book and get entangled further into this twisted story, she begins to find herself gripped by this book, but for more reasons than just one.
Right from the opening shot to the very last, Tom Ford had me gripped and in the palm of his hand. Nocturnal Animals is some truly astounding cinema. This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word; from its remarkable screenplay to its white-knuckle direction to the remarkable acting and more. In a year so overstuffed with unoriginality - with reboots and sequels and bloated blockbusters aplenty - Nocturnal Animals is one of the few original gems. Ford, who wrote as well as directed, has written what is one of the best screenplays of the year. The story is gripping, thought-provoking and utterly compelling; there are 3 stories taking place here and each one is as interesting as the next, all so cleverly intertwining with one another too. It's a very intelligent, sharply written screenplay and one that requires some thinking but it's so nuanced and brilliant, and Ford never panders to audiences but rather trusts them to figure things out for themselves and put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves. He has written characters that are so nuanced and fleshed out, they're not the most likeable bunch of people yet they're somewhat oddly relatable and the audience can empathise and really invest in their stories nonetheless.

And the stellar cast all bring these characters to life so perfectly; the acting is truly spectacular across the board. Amy Adams - in one of her two great 2016 films - gives a career best performance as Susan; she brings the right level of mystery and darkness to the role, truly embodying this complex character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also gives a career best as the despicable and awfully evil Ra Marcus. He gives a hauntingly chilling performance that will get under your skin; it's hard to watch a man as creepy and filthy as him but the young actor is so magnetic in the role it's hard to look away. Michael Shannon is one of the standouts as the hilariously dark and witty Bobby, with no regard for the rules. He's a morally troubled character but the actor brings a lot of levity and humanity to ground the proceedings. However, this is Gyllenhaal's show and the actor steals the show in a double role. He plays two characters and there are two very different people on-screen. The actor brings enough humanity and innocence to both Tony and Edward but enough intrigue and nuance to never quite reveal his hand and his performance is breathtakingly good. All the performances are certainly Awards-calibre but it'll definitely be a real upset if Gyllenhaal doesn't get any recognition for his enthralling performances.
Ford's direction is as masterful as his writing, and he handles this material so well. With 3 very different stories being juggled here, this could easily have been a very messy and very choppy film but the pacing never fluctuates and Tom seamlessly weaves between the various narratives - from Susan's present and her past and the story within the novel too. It's a very slow-paced film and Ford really takes his time to set up these characters and tell the stories but it's just such a gripping screenplay and directed so meticulously that the film never once feels slow and never drags and it always keeps you on your toes. He orchestrates the tone and the atmosphere superbly too, to create some truly thrilling and nail-bitingly tense moments - a scene early on, set in the novel, with Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson on the road is truly chilling and haunting and undoubtedly one of the best scenes of the year. The action is kept to a minimum too but it's grounded and intense when it takes place. Of course, coming from the fashion industry, Ford would naturally have an eye for aesthetic and it's evident because this is a gorgeous looking film - it has a very unique, beautiful style to it and the cinematography is astounding. The use of colour is very important too, with the subtle differeneces and the visual aesthetic almost a character in itself, lending to the proceedings and the story as a whole.

In the end, it's hard to fault Nocturnal Animals. It's flawless. It's a masterpiece. It will capture and hold your attention from the opening frame to the very last and will have a lasting impact too. This is by no means an easy film to watch; it's unsettlingly dark and tense and just bone-rattlingly chilling. However, if you like complex, layered thrillers then this is for you. It's a film with a lingering impact and one that will make you think for days on end. Ford is a director that has observed art and created it many times in the fashion world; this is a film about an art gallery owner with an artistic style and aesthetic. It's safe to say that this is another work of tremendous art for Tom Ford, a finely crafted and beautifully composed piece of cinema.

VERDICT:
Tom Ford dazzles with the remarkable Nocturnal Animals; a gorgeously shot, sharply written, superbly acted and finely crafted piece of film. It's dark, unsettling and a truly hauntingly beautiful masterpiece.


 


About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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